Often new SW
tank owners or ones contemplating setting up a SW
tank are overwhelmed with all the equipment/expense that goes into a SW
tank. I"ve created a basic and optional list of equipment and general tips on maintaining to help answer basic questions and possibly save you money/headaches down the road.
All links are in bold and you can either hover over acronyms or review the Common Abbreviations
Tank type and size are going to greatly affect overall cost of setting up a SW
tank, especially when considering lighting/filtration requirements for corals. Most tanks use tempered glass which will shatter if drilled. A "reef ready"¯ tank pre-drilled is highly recommended if you plan to have corals. Larger tanks (ie: 30+ gal
) are easier to maintain and offer more stocking opportunities but lighting costs can be cost prohibitive. Smaller tanks are great to setup for a nano reef tank and will save money considerably but can be more difficult to maintain and require more attention.
, & MH
are the most popular ways to light an aquarium and is often a confusing topic for most.
NO lights are fine for FO
but if you are thinking of starting a FOWLR
or reef setup and you have not purchased your lights yet do not waste your money on NO lighting. The typical NO lighting is only about 50% cheaper then PC
lighting and the little bit of extra you spend on PC
lighting will then allow you to be able to house medium light corals
assuming you increase the watts to 4-6 per gal
. For high light corals
the use of MH
is highly recommended.
Tank height also has to be taken into consideration versus gal
per watt solely. ie: a 30 gal
high which is 24"¯ high with PC
lighting of 260W gives you 8.6 WPG
but still may not be enough to house high light corals. Positioning of high/low light corals is key also with lower light corals closer to the sand and high light corals placed up high.
Checkout our sponsors for great deals on lighting:
Heater / thermometer / GFCI
Maintaining a constant temperature is required and getting a heater in the 3-5 watts per gal
is usually adequate. Setting your heater to the max temp during the day so it doesn't fluctuate at night and a temp of 76-82 as long as it's steady is fine. I prefer titanium heaters
versus glass ones to avoid breakage issues and having two incase one fails is a good idea as well.
Any thermometer will work ranging from glass to digital but is important for monitoring tank temp.
The use of a GFCI (Ground fault circuit interrupter)
is highly recommended along with a Titanium Grounding Probe
to eliminate the possibility of shocking you or your stock.
You can use a swing arm or floating hydrometer for FO
setups to check/maintain sg
. Keeping your sg
anywhere from 1.019-1.022 for FO
is fine but make sure it also remains constant. For reef setups I'd aim for a sg
closer to 1.025 and the use of a refractometer
is highly recommended for greater accuracy.
The use of a power head to move your water is necessary with a SW
tank and a tank turn over of 15-20 times for FO
/REEF is good since all benefit from good current. I would get at least two. Point them upwards and at each other to create a slight ripple on the surface for good oxygen exchange and convulsing currents. If the PH doesn't come with a pre-filter/screen then consider adding a sponge to keep fish/inverts/sand from getting sucked into it.
For 55 gal
or less sized tanks the following power heads are good choices IME.
, Marineland Penguin 1140
, Hagen AquaClear Powerhead
, & the Hydor Koralia
For tanks larger then 55 gal
Seio Super Pump
(cheap and low watts but should not be put on a controller)
(more expensive but considered "the best"¯ by many and can be put on a controller)
Optionally a closed loop system using an outside pump can also help you to reach your gph
goal if you don't want power heads in the tank. You can use either PVC
or vinyl tubing and for intake a simple intake screen
does the job. For output you can use PVC
, a cheap return pipe
, use an expensive Lifegard Customflo Water System
, or custom design your output with Loc-Line.
(Loc-Line will give you the most options.)
There are many brands to choose from and some have more/less ca
or a higher/lower ph then others. Consistency is more important then the actual brand used along with maintaining ph/sg
/temp in the tank and when doing PWC
. Some of the more readily available brands are:
, & Red Sea
. Higher quality salts would include: Tropic Marine Salt
, Kent Sea Salt
, & Crystal Sea Marinemix
which are better formulated for reef tanks.
It should also be noted that each salt should be tested for limitations (major chemistry components) and adjusted prior to use in the aquarium based on target goals.
Buying larger buckets is more economical and will last anywhere from 3-9 months for the average sized tank and PWC
is recommended in depths of 1"¯-5"¯
) to keep from limiting your fish/invert choices.
Buying bagged "live sand"¯ is not recommended since whatever was alive is more then likely dead from sitting on the shelf. Getting a couple of scoops from your lfs
or friend can help to seed your sand bed.
The substrate depth should be relative to the goal of the tank design, animal load and grain size of the sand. Depending on what sand is used, as little as 1" will allow for a decent facultative bacterial colony to perform denitrification. Keep in mind that bacteria can create their own environments so every part of the tank contributes even if a small amount.
Also note on borrowed sand that it should never be obtained from a tank containing fish at the lfs
. Copper contamination is highly likely. Coral tanks only at the lfs
that do not share filtration with tanks containing fish or from a friend that has never used medication in their main tank is OK.
If you use crush coral it limits your fish/invert choices and builds up waste and needs to be vacuumed often.
Chemicals / Test kits / Water quality
If using tap with a FO
setup test it for nh3
and if all are not 0 then consider getting a ro
unit to filter out all impurities. If planning for a reef ro
is highly recommended. (more on ro
under optional equipment below)
Testing the tap for alk
/ph for excessively hard water or high ph as sometimes found in well systems is important also.
If tap tests are OK and you can not afford ro
at this time make sure you use a dechlorinator
If you use tap that contains no3
you will have algae issues.
For test kits you will need the following for FO
as a minimum. For reef you will also need additional tests for anything you dose in the tank ie: ca
, ect... so that doses can be monitored to keep from overdosing.
A Saltwater Master Test
is fine for the basics. I'd recommend Salifert
for all the others.
Filtration: Natural / Mechanical
set ups you can use mechanical filtration to establish anaerobic bacteria. The sand bed will help establish facultative bacteria. This can be achieved using a sump, HOB
filter, or canister. Some of the more popular brands in no particular order are:
, Rena FilStar
, & tons of wet/dry sumps
to choose from.
Keep in mind that these units need to be cleaned weekly or every other week depending on the amount of fish you have and feeding schedule. (See more in maintenance tips)
or reef setups you will get all the biological filtration
you need from stocking your tank/sump/fuge with 1.5-2+ lbs of base/lr
along with a skimmer & proper flow from the use of power heads/sump or a closed loop system . The use of mechanical filtration can be used in conjunction with lr
as well as long as its waste is cleaned regularly. The advantage of having both is the easy addition of media like Seachem Matrix
, Black Diamond
, or Purigen
along with Bio-Marine Poly Filter pads
& PURA pads
to maintain good water quality.
If looking for cheap live rock checkout Welcome to International Marine Fish - Premium Live Rock
which has lr
for as little as $3-$4 per lb shipped.
Couple of more places with quality lr
Saltwater live rock, Florida live reef sand at great wholesale prices
Aquarium Fish: Tropical Freshwater Fish and Saltwater Fish for Home Aquariums
Live Rock - Tampa Bay Saltwater Aquacultured Live Rock
For base rock checkout Marco's base rock
. You can buy mostly base rock and seed with 30%-50% live rock and it will all be "live" within a year or so.
For skimmers the following brands are popular broken down by tank size and whether you are looking for HOB
For at or less then 75 gal
AquaC Remora Pro
Kent Marine Nautilus TE Skimmer
Coralife super skimmer
Bak Pak Skimmer
For greater then 75 gal
ASM - G3 Protein Skimmer
Kent Marine Nautilus EX Skimmer
Reef Devil Deluxe
AquaC EV skimmer
AquaC Remora Pro
Checkout our sponsors for excellent pricing on filters:
Personally I feel a ro
unit should be used for every type of tank but I also realize that many aquarists have survived for decades from just using tap so I put it on this list but still consider it to be a great investment. A ro
performance in removing potentially harmful elements and keeping the water as pure as the fish/invert's natural environment will greatly aid your long term success in keeping a SW
A lot of people get them from ebay for around $100
Our sponsored site is an excellent place to go also if you don't want to deal with ebay
Quarantine tank / Acclimation
The use of a QT tank
while not mandatory is highly recommended as well.
is only needed in a QT for invertebrates preferably for 2+ hours. With fish, you need to get them out of the transport bag as quickly as possible. Test the transport water for temp, salinity, pH and so on. Then manipulate the QT parameters to match. Once done, the acclimation timeframe can be greatly reduced. Temp, pH and salinity being the main concerns. Bring the QT sg
/ph/temp up to the main tank over the 6+ weeks kept in QT and increase the sg
/ph slowly and every 3+ days to avoid stress.
See Help setting up a QT tank
& Equipment for drip acclimation.
Sump / Refugium
See Sumps explained
& Refugiums, aka fuges or refuge
A DIY sump is the most economical. This post from RLG2182 goes into good detail
If you don't have room for a refugium below the tank you also might want to consider a HOB refugium
fuge they sell does require to be put together but is quite easy. It doesn't come with a ph, lighting, lr
, sand, or Chaetomorpha Algae
but all can be bought elsewhere fairly cheaply.
Any ph will work and I'd get one that you can hook up a vinyl tube to the ph end to place the other end in the fuge. From there gravity will just force it out the other end after going through your fuge. I'd aim for around 100-200 gph
for ph. You donā€™t want the current too strong in which it would displace the algae or sand in the fuge.
Personally I wouldn't use sand because you wouldn't be able to create the 4"¯ sand bed easily to aid in no3
reduction. The use or lr
rubble and chaeto is sufficient for no3
reduction and a place to cultivate pods
. Make sure you trim and remove the chaeto as it grows to export nutrients. Growing it alone will not achieve that goal.
For pod cultivation if you don't already have a substantial amount you can purchase them from the following sites:
Welcome to Reef Nutrition
: : : : Indo-Pacific Sea Farms : : : :
Detritivore Products Page
The design of the refugium also allows them to easily escape into the main tank as well.
To simplify things and to keep this post shorter I'm just going to link the other optional equipment articles on drsfostersmith which explains everything in detail.
/controllers & monitors
Tips for maintaining your SW aqaurium
Research is key to a successful SW
tank and I'd highly recommend reading all the saltwater articles on this site
, the articles on liveaquaria.com
, & picking up a good book
. All are excellent ways to get acquainted with all thatā€™s required for this expensive hobby.
I'm a huge advocate for maintaining a strict PWC
schedule of 10%-15% per week for the first 6+ months. Afterwards and depending on stock & filtration this can usually be done every other week or even monthly if lightly stocked. By keeping up with the weekly PWC
you will greatly increase your chances of being successful and easily maintain your levels while your tank stabilizes.
Marking your tank in the back with a fine black marker or with tape in intervals of 10%, 20%, 30%, ect... will also help with knowing how much to drain from the tank.
needs to be aerated and brought up to tank temp/sg
/ph over the course of 24 hours in an unsealed, dedicated, & clean container or else your fish/inverts/lr
could die from adding newly mixed salt directly to the tank. Salt is caustic to fish/inverts if not properly mixed. Never mix salt directly in the tank unless it is completely empty.
Use a ph aimed towards the surface and a heater to aerate/heat the water.
Using your sump is the easiest way to do a PWC
assuming you can change out 10% with just your sump volume.
I use a clean 30 gal
trashcan on wheels and premix my pwc
water all at once for the month (about 25 gal
) using a dedicated pump and heater to maintain temp and aeration. When I do 6 gal
changes each week I just roll the trashcan out of the closet and hook up the pump to vinyl tubing to suck most of the water out of my sump to another trashcan (turning off the sump pump) and then refill the sump using the pump and vinyl tubing again. You can also just drain it to a toilet or sink if one is close by.
The whole process takes less then 10 minutes from start to finish and is the personally the way I would do it for simplicity. The easier it is to do the PWC
the more likely you will keep doing it.
Cleaning of filters
If cleaning a canister/HOB
that uses a bio-wheel takes longer then 10 minutes then float the bio-wheel in the tank to keep the bacteria wet/alive. Rinse all filter media in old sw
when you do a PWC
or use ro
. Never use tap or hot water to rinse media since doing so can kill off bacteria. Only replace filter media when worn/torn. Using lr
rubble (broken up lr
) in your HOB
/canisters/sumps versus bio-balls will help keep waste from building up and aid in denitrification
Dosing / Other chemicals
For anything and everything you add to the tank you should have a test kit for to make sure you do not overdose
test kits are the most reliable IME. With a proper PWC
schedule about the only thing for most setups you will have to add is ca
to keep it in the 380-415 ppm
The use of media like Seachem Matrix
, Black Diamond
, or Purigen
can also greatly help keep your water pure.
Make sure you rinse these off well in old sw
water to get all the dust off before adding to your filtration.
Algae removal / control
New tanks often accumulate algae (brown/green) and keeping the lights off during your fishless cycle
will help keep it down. Once the tank as cycled adding a clean up crew of red/blue leg hermits & Turbo/Nassarius snails will help keep detritus and algae down.
Shrimp and starfish can also help but require a more stabilized aquarium. I would wait 3+ months for shrimp and 6+ months for any starfish. Most starfish are not "reef safe"¯ and for beginners I would only get one starfish for tanks <=75 gal
and would stick with serpent or brittle starfish.
All hermits/snails/shrimp/starfish need to be drip acclimated for 2+ hours as they are more sensitive to ph/sg
/temp changes then fish.
For removal and control of algae see Hara's 10 Step Plan for Nuisance Algae Control
These items are just a few of the basic/optional equipment available and are no way an inclusive list of all you will come across. I hope I've helped to narrow down some of your choices and explain what is required so you can fully enjoy keeping your SW
I'd love to see other experienced aquarist add their tips to this thread as well so we can all benefit.